Thailand’s enchanting northern city is a cultural hub packed with temples and marketplaces, and surrounded by mountain wilderness. Chiang Mai activities range from urban wanderings in the old town, to countryside adventures exploring National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and hill tribe villages.
Thai immersion Chiang Mai activities
A number of museums help visitors learn about Thai traditional life. Another way is to mingle with locals at the marketplaces and try some local cuisine. You’ll love learning to make delectable Thai dishes from freshly grown produce at the Thai Farm Cooking School, and love eating them even more.
The temple city
Of Chiang Mai’s 300 or so temples, 13th century Wat Chiang Man is the city’s oldest and features a magnificent gold and crimson interior and rare Buddha statues. Unique Wat U Mong was built into a hill in the 14th century, with chambers and tunnels located underground. Opulent ‘royal grade’ Wat Phra Singh (pictured top), is called the ‘Lion Temple’ because of the lion statues guarding the entrance.
Mountaintop Wat Phra That at Doi Suthep is about a 25-minute drive out of Chiang Mai. It features a grand 300 step Naga serpent staircase to the temple complex. (You can also make the ascent via a lift.) Its terraces provide an expansive view of the city, and the complex has an impressive gold chedi (stupa) and exquisite emerald Buddha. Visitors are welcome to sound the temple gong – one of the largest in the world.
Chiang Mai’s ageless teak temples, Wat Phan Tao and Wat Lok Molee, feature golden Buddhas and intricate gold and wood carvings. They could be the most serene and atmospheric in Chiang Mai. In addition, Wat Lok Molee has a beautiful chedi and a collection of unusual sculptures. The carved animals from the Chinese zodiac on the temple’s lawns are particularly charming.
Chiang Mai’s world-famous Loy Krathong festival takes place each November, with beautiful floating offerings and sky lanterns.
Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountainous National Parks featuring caves, waterfalls and jungle hikes. The range of activities is enormous, from mountain bike tours to visits to elephant camps or hill tribe villages.
Humane activities which avoid harm to elephants, gibbons and other wild animals are increasing in popularity. Lanna Kingdom Tours offer tours to a sanctuary where visitors can help feed and bathe the elephants. The same company offers white water rafting, ziplining and bamboo rafting tours.
Markets and handicrafts are a specialty. Browse the stalls at the coolest time of day at the Chiang Mai night bazaar, or the popular Saturday and Sunday Walking Street markets on weekends. Locals shop at Talat Ton Phayom and Talat Warorot markets.
Baan Tawai is a ‘creative village’ of small craft shops and workshops about an hour’s drive from the city. It’s less crowded than the markets and can be slightly cheaper. Perhaps worth hiring a car and driver to make the trip.
Baan Celadon on Sankamphaeng Road specializes in traditional Celadon ceramics, including fine tableware and ornaments.
Thai Tribal Crafts is a fair trade store selling attractive handicrafts and textiles at reasonable prices. Otherwise, visit the local craftspeople with disabilities at work at the Healing Family Workshop.
Chiang Mai certainly has plenty of tailors ready to measure you up and run up some new outfits or suits.
Finally, when it’s time to unwind, indulge in one of the incredible eateries, and the numerous spas offering massages and other pampering treatments.